Rupiah drops Vernon Mwaanga

President Rupiah Banda has dropped Vernon Mwaanga as his campaign manager in this year’s elections and replaced him with Dr Boniface Kawimbe following disagreements on preferred candidates at the MMD convention in Kabwe recently, according to the Post newspaper.

A senior State House member of staff disclosed yesterday that President Banda had earlier appointed Parliamentary Chief Whip Mwaanga as his national campaign chairman for 2011 but wrote to him after the convention, informing him that he had decided to reconstitute the campaign team, from which he would be excluded.

“In his April 15, 2011 letter to VJ, the President didn’t state that he had appointed Dr Kawimbe as his replacement,” the source said. “But we are aware that last week the President phoned Dr Kawimbe (who is deputy education minister) to inform him about the appointment. This VJ’s fallout follows disagreements between him and the President over the candidates of MMD national secretary Major Richard Kachingwe and women’s chairperson Sylvia Masebo,” the source said. “VJ is reported to have supported Major Kachingwe and Masebo for the two positions while President Banda preferred Bernard Mpundu and Anne Chungu for the same positions. Major Kachingwe and Masebo emerged victorious at the convention, after both of them decisively defeated their opponents.”

The source said that President Banda was so bitter with these results to the extent that he felt betrayed by Mwaanga, who has been a longtime friend.

“The President has been telling his close aides and family members that he felt betrayed and let down by Mwaanga’s inability to support two crucial candidates of his choice at the convention,” the source said. “President Banda doesn’t want to work with Masebo or just to see her anywhere near him because he complains that she preferred to support Mr Magande for the presidency after the death of our late president Mwanawasa, and not him. As for Major Kachingwe, it appears that initially Dr Chiluba was influencing the President against him. But it seems that the President has now reluctantly accepted to work with Major Kachingwe although he feels that VJ could have helped in stopping his victory.”

When reached for comment yesterday, Mwaanga was reluctant to comment. But after being pressed further, he said: “I have had many years of friendship and brotherhood with President Banda and my loyalty to him cannot and should not be doubted by anyone. I have supported him and defended him to the hilt, even in my sleep, and I will continue to do so. If what you are telling me is true, it is my duty to support whoever the President chooses as MMD campaign chairman because that is his prerogative as party president.”

Mwaanga continued: “Let me hasten to add that provided the decision has been taken for the right reasons, I have absolutely no quarrel with it whatsoever. My conscience is clear and God will judge whether I have indeed betrayed my friend or not. I have no record of betrayal in my personal and political history. Maybe that is the reason why I have consistently stayed in the MMD since 1990 while others have left and come back.

“The victory of the MMD is not and cannot be dependent on one person, be it me or someone else. It is dependent on our collective strengths, resolve and proud record of achievements in so many areas of our national life. I am Government Chief Whip at present and I will continue playing a constructive and positive role in the affairs of the MMD to ensure that my party wins a decisive victory in the forthcoming tripartite elections.”

Asked if he was bitter about being removed as head of the MMD campaign team, Mwaanga retorted: “How can I be bitter? It has been an honour and privilege to serve as head of the MMD campaign team. It is not a right, but a privilege. I leave bitterness to lesser persons.”

Asked whether or not he had received President Banda’s April 15, 2011 letter to him, Mwaanga answered in the affirmative.

“I can confirm that I received the letter several days ago, as it now appears that so many other people seem to know about it,” Mwaanga said. “I can also say that I am at peace with myself and can live with its contents.”

The State House source said President Banda’s letter was harshly written and embarrassing to Mwaanga considering where the two are coming from together.

“But for us as senior staff at State House, we don’t mind what has happened to VJ because it is a relief among us. VJ’s close relationship with the President was beginning to undermine our jobs as the President was listening more to what VJ was telling him,” the source said. “This development now means that we will no longer have to compete for loyalty with VJ.”

However, some senior MMD members spoken to expressed surprise and disappointment that President Banda could have taken such a risky and suicidal gamble to sideline Mwaanga in this year’s elections.

The members said Mwaanga was a veteran of MMD victorious election campaigns since 1991.

“Some of us know that although VJ may have supported Major Kachingwe and Masebo at the convention, he never campaigned for them out of respect and loyalty to the President,” the senior member said. “Although we didn’t know about VJ’s firing as campaign manager, some of us saw this rift between the President and VJ and the President dropped VJ from his delegation to Mazabuka last week where he launched mobile hospitals and addressed traditional leaders in the province. ”

The source said most chiefs in Southern Province expressed surprise at Mwaanga’s absence in Mazabuka.

Both Mwaanga and President Banda have in the past publicly boasted about their 50 years of friendship stretching back from their years as freedom fighters. After the 2008 Presidential by-election, which saw President Banda narrowly beat PF leader Michael Sata by 35,000 votes, Mwaanga was accused by the PF and other opposition leaders of having rigged the elections in favour of his old friend Rupiah Banda, a charge Mwaanga has continued to vehemently deny. Mwaanga has since earned himself the tag of “MMD chief rigger” and is hated and feared by opposition parties during elections.
However, Mwaanga says he is not an election rigger but an “election strategist” and that people making those allegations are merely playing cheap politics.

Some opposition members spoken to yesterday said they were happy that Mwaanga would not be involved in MMD campaigns this year and that they were happy dealing with a relatively inexperienced MMD campaign manager in Dr Kawimbe, who is also eyeing a parliamentary seat in Kasama.

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